I’m Back (Maybe)

I haven’t blogged in almost 2 years!  I have done some posts for my library’s blog, but a new position as Head Librarian in a renovated building that went from a grades 5-12 space to a middle school (5-8) space has kept me busy.  I’ve had the desire to blog many times–I miss writing reviews (and have read some amazing things this past year), but I think what I miss most right now is the chance to reflect and also connect.  I’m inspired by a recent post by my friend and coworker Melanie (indieschoollib.com) talking about reaching out and the power of connecting with other folks.  This past year in my work life has been completely transformative, thanks to an amazing space and even more amazing kids filling it.  I want/need to talk about it.  I feel sorry for the poor folks who come through on campus tours because they end up getting an earful from me because I can’t suppress my desire to rave about what’s been happening, and I haven’t had a good outlet for it (except my poor husband!).  I have always enjoyed my job, but this past year has been crazy fun, in large part because I have learned.  I have learned more than I could have ever predicted.  And while the library blog is a good place to talk about what the kids learned, maybe this is the place to talk about what I have learned, and am learning.

So, there’s the usual stuff–books and more books, and reading classes.  I continue to love those things, and always will.  Our library circulations were crazy all year, with the middle schoolers relishing having their own space and also some super cool stuff going on with the English department.  The library did something we called Mad Millions, which was a challenge for the middle school to read a million pages by the end of the year.  We hit one million in December, I think, and even with recording fatigue (a very real thing, I can attest), we made it over halfway to a second million before school let out.  It was loads of fun.  Next year, we are thinking about doing a Read It Forward thing, with a community service component, but that is still in the early planning stages.  We will do Mad Millions again, but not next year–change is always a good thing.  We know the kids are reading, so this was a way to acknowledge and celebrate it.  We gave prizes along the way, but most of them were random–200,000th page, or 500th book.  Unpredictable things that wouldn’t just reward those kids who are huge readers.  We had a library sleepover with the advisory with the most pages at 1 million, and a movie night with 2nd place.  You haven’t lived until you’ve played hide n’ seek in the library at night!  (Yes, one rascal tried to submit the dictionary.  Yes, loads of kids read Wonderstruck.  Yes, there were a few instances of “fudging,” shall we say.  But overall, it was solid fun.)

But the thing that I really want to talk about is the Makerspace.  Me a year ago (to myself):  “oh god, I have no idea what I’m going to do in that area of the library called the Makerspace.  I know nothing about any of that stuff; that’s Melanie’s department.  I guess the kids will help me figure it out.”  What I had no idea of:  that corner of the library was going to become something that changed me fundamentally as a librarian and as a person.  I don’t even know how to capture this in words; it’s like it is too big.  I can’t get it all into one post.  And the most stunning part (to me, at least) is that I feel like I have only just dipped one toe in the water.  I still know so little, but I know enough to know this:  the kind of learning that takes place in that space has the potential to be profound.  I know this because it is happening to me.  I am 44 years old, but I am a baby in the world of making, and oh, how glorious it is to be a kid again!

I don’t even know how it happened.  It started small and quiet: two boys coming during study hall, at my invitation and with a request to them to please help me figure out what to put in the space.  Then a few girls, same request.  Then some kids hanging out after school.  Then more coming during more study halls.  I bought an arduino kit.  I bought batteries and conductive tape.  I bought clay.  I bought  a sewing machine.  I bought motors and LEDs.  I knew how to use NONE of this except the clay.  I am a book person, not a crafty or techy person.  I bought markers and paper and fabric and duct tape.  I remember a kid wandering in.  “So, are we allowed to just, like, make stuff?”  “Yep.”  “You mean, we can just come here and have FUN?!?”  “Yep.  I think when you make something, you are learning something.”  It blew his little mind, I tell you.

Gradually, more kids.  More supplies.  Some crafty (lots of sewing, by hand and machine), some electronics, some a combination of the two.  More chaos.  More times when I knew that more structure is needed for the space (not for the projects themselves; the kids have that under control for the most part) but was just so taken by the energy and the love of learning that I tabled the idea of figuring that part out until summer.  Because one thing I did not want to do was mess with the magic of what was going on; it felt so important to establish the space as a kid-driven haven.  Kids were coming and building things–things they wanted to build.  They were playing with computer programming, and electronics, and paper and tape and stuff.  There was a phase where a bunch of kids were making stuff out of wood scraps.  They made some crazy stuff; one kid made some kind of pulley thing that I could hardly wrap my mind around, let alone build it.  (Another kid taped wood together to make a golf club and wanted to play library golf.  I did step in at that point!)

But here’s the thing:  they didn’t just make stuff.  What blew me away was how they interacted with each other.  One advantage of me being so incredibly ignorant was that even if I had wanted to play the role of the Adult Who Knows Things, I couldn’t.  They had to figure things out, and help each other, and mentor each other.  This is my favorite story: early in the year, right before Thanksgiving, one of the early users of the space was hanging out after school working with arduino.  She said she was glad that there weren’t any other kids around because, as she put it, “I’m not that great at getting along with other kids.”  She had a few good buddies, she said, but she preferred to be alone.  Fast forward to our K-12 Art Walk night on campus this spring, when we had a Maker/DIY area set up for visitors: that very kid taught a number of other kids how to solder (with me overseeing for safety, but she never needed me) with patience and kindness and care.  For the little kids, she would hold the soldering iron while they fed in the solder.  When the afterschool group grew and grew, she was always right in the thick of things, happy.  

As the kids were learning, so was I.  It’s not that I wanted to be the Adult Who Knows Things, but yeah, I do like to know what’s going on, and also, their energy was contagious.  So I learned to sew, first by hand and then by machine.  I learned to solder.  I learned a bit about electricity.  I learned a bit about coding.  I sometimes spent hours working on something, only to end up essentially where I started, except I guess you could say I figured out hours’ worth of what NOT to do.  I am still on a quest to make the perfect electronic greeting card!  And I have never in my life been happier.  I feel out of my depth way more often than I am used to (at least professionally), but that off-balance feeling is very connected with a feeling of deep joy.  Not because of making things, I don’t think, but because of being a part of something bigger than I am: these quirky, funny, creative kids exploring ideas, bumping up against frustrations and moving past them, helping each other and bouncing ideas off each other.  Sometimes arguing with each other. It’s not always magical, but when it is, wow.  It feels like we could save the world or something.

And I haven’t even written about SEW for SOS.  That is going to need to be a post of its own.  What happens when you have a smart kid with a broken arm and an empathic heart hanging out in a Makerspace?  A great idea.  And then add in a bunch of other incredible kids who want to make a difference in the world, and you get Magic.  I keep using that word, and I probably need some synonyms, but it’s the word that is in my heart.  I feel like this year has been magical.  I feel like my heart and mind have been stretched.  I haven’t always been who I want to be, and I haven’t always risen to the challenge, and I think another post about where I need to grow is going to be next.  I have a lot to learn and figure out this summer.  But this opportunity that I have been given, to grow and to be a part of the world of these kids, is something I am so grateful for.  I love my work.

And if you read all of that, I just might love you as well!  Ha.  



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4 responses to “I’m Back (Maybe)

  1. Allison Williams

    Carolyn, Your enthusiasm is contagious! Your year does indeed sound magical. I look forward to reading more about the wonderful things happening in the library.

  2. Great to hear your enthusiasm. Your school is very lucky to have you doing/facilitating magical things!

  3. Delores D Anderson

    All I can think of to say is a very unsophisticated word – WOW! After reading your “story”, I am thinking it is such an honor to know you, but more importantly, it is beyond an honor for your kids to have you provide a space for them to learn how to grow in a most humble and also exciting and exploratory way! They are very lucky to have you!!!

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